Having finished up at 4-2 on a six-game Canadian road trip, the Rockland Boulders returned home to Palisades Credit Union Park to take on their arch rivals, the New Jersey Jackals. Despite reaching at 7:30 a.m. on game day and several players nicked up and unable to play, Manager Jamie Keefe looked forward to getting everybody into the lineup against a very potent New Jersey Jackals team that had scored 128 runs, collected 217 hits, slugged 21 home runs and racked up 122 RBI, led by Brian Burgamy batting .375 with five home runs and 22 RBI.
“They (New Jersey) are going to swing and saw that in spring training,” said Keefe. “We’re going to have to play some good defense and can’t give them extra outs, plain and simple. We’re a little banged and for a few days. A long season and sprint out of the gates and a feared lineup and only team we haven’t faced yet.”
The Jackals certainly did not waste any time jumping out to a lead in game one of the series tagging starter Jason Byers for five runs in the second inning and sending nine hitters to the plate. Rockland responded in the bottom half of the frame plating two runs including Joe Maloney launching his league leading 7th home run of the season into the left-center field bleachers. RBI singles by Marcus Nidiffer and Jon Smith in the third sliced lead down to one run.
With Byers departing after two innings on the mound, Chris Carmain took over the pitching duties and New Jersey tallied two runs in the 4th. The tug of war continued in the 5th with Maloney driving in his second run of the game on a double and sac fly by Joe Bennie making it 7-6.
Carmain settled down on the hill retiring 8 in a row at one juncture. In the sixth Mike Fransoso singled with one out, swiped second base and advanced to third as the throw from Jackals catcher Conrad Gregor sailed into center field and eventually came around to score on a sac fly tying the game up at 7-7.
The game turned into the Joe Maloney vs. Brain Burgamy show. Burgamy belting a solo shot into the left-center bleachers putting New Jersey back on top. In the 8th, Maloney went yard for a second time, clobbering a blast on to the concourse in left field evening the game up at 8-8.
Back came Burgamy in the 9th lacing an RBI double to right field as the Jackals reclaimed the lead. Brian Joynt would follow lashing a drive off the glove of Fransoso into left field bringing in Burgamy. Just when you thought the game was over, the Boulders rallied in the ninth as Bennie legged out an infield single and Alex Herceg followed reaching an error. Aaron Wilson socked a double into the right-center gap scoring both runners tying the game for a third time on the night and sending it to extra innings.
In the 10th inning, Dvontrey Richardson led off with a bloop double to shallow center and advanced to third on a sac bunt. Ryan Retz drove a fly ball to center easily scoring Richardson. Maloney was done for the night leading off with a single in the bottom half of the inning and advancing to second on a sac bunt by Jon Smith but New Jersey closer Johnny Hellweg slammed the door fanning both Bennie and Herceg to end the game.
“These guys just don’t give in and heck of a ball game,” Keefe said. “We put pressure on them to make mistakes and they put pressure on us. Some big time at bats and hats off to Aaron Wilson for stepping up tonight and getting that opportunity. A tough loss but so much fight and guys battled after a long day.”
In game two of the series, Maloney picked up from the night before finishing 3-for-5 with five RBI, three runs scored including belting his league leading 9th round tripper of the year. Mike Fransoso went 2-for-6 with three runs driven in and scoring two runs. Starter Justin Topa surrendered seven runs on nine hits and walking two in 5 1/3 innings but managed to earn his fourth win of the season. The bullpen duo of Alex Farina and Matt Kostalos sparkled in 3 2/3 shutout innings allowing just two hits.
“A good breakout and nice to explode for some runs and guys swung the ball really well,” Keefe said. “At the end of the day the one thing about the team in the first inning is almost laughable we come right back and get runs. Top is getting better and better and didn’t have his best stuff tonight but battle through and made pitches when he needed to.”
Through the first two games of the series both teams’ had accounted for 43 runs on 53 hits but sloppy defense led to 11 combined errors. Games 3 and 4 of the series switched to Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair. Game 3 mirrored the first two games with the lead switching hands frequently. Having shutout Ottawa last Monday, Boulders starter Markus Solbach found a groove retiring six hitters at one point while locked in a pitcher’s duel with Jackals starter David Richardson.
The pivotal moment came in the seventh with Solbach in a jam as New Jersey had runners on first and second with none out. Solbach regained his composure and managed to retire the side in order recording his fourth win and today named as Pointstreak Player Of the Week.. Feeding off the momentum, Rockland took advantage of some fielding mistakes by Jackals right fielder Johnny Bladel on consecutive shallow pop-ups. Entering the game with a 9-game hitting streak, the red-hot Jared McDonald ripped a two-run single into right field. With bases packed and one put, Cody Regis tacked on a key insurance run with a sac fly extending the lead to 5-2. Closer Mayckol Guaipe set down the side in the 9th to register his 8th save of the season.
“I have been working on a couple of things in the cage and trusting my swing a little bit more and being consistent with my mechanics is the biggest thing,” said McDonald. “Looking into a pitch I can get and executing that swing. I feel I have some more room to grow to where I was back last year and just building on every at bat.”
“A good one and seventh inning completely changed and then we were able to capitalize,” Keefe said. “Jared is starting to see it and need that at the top of the lineup. He’s been a big difference on base and scoring a lot more runs. The insurance run was huge and Cody had a couple of really good swings.”
“A team win, played solid defense and made some good plays in the infield and one thing that goes unseen in last few days is Alex Herceg catching every inning and caught a heck of game tonight. Solbach has really turned the corner and a rest to what he and Salazar are working on and mental part a big part of how he is preparing.”
In the series finale played under sweltering conditions with temperatures hovering in the mid 90’s, New Jersey raced out to a 3-0 lead after two innings. Mike Montville got Rockland on the board in the third belting his 4th home run over the center field wall.
However, in the fifth inning Rylan Sandoval clubbed a solo shot over the right field making it 4-1. Montville added to his RBI total on the day drilling a two-run double into right-center trimming the deficit. Catching a break after New Jersey catcher Adam Martin dropped a foul pop up behind home plate, Jared McDonald delivered a sac fly to center scoring Montville tying it up. On this day, the Boulders reliable bullpen could not shut the door as the Jackals plated two run with two outs in the 6th regaining the lead.
Down 8-5 after a two-run single by Johnny Bladel in the 7th, Joe Maloney continued his success against Jackals pitching, hammering a two-out double in the 8th closing the gap once again. New Jersey charged back scoring three times off Matt Kostalos in the 8th to put the game away.
“They threw jabs all day and we kept coming back landing our own,” said Keefe. One of those days, almost four-hour game and 95 degrees. We played some pretty good defense and made some good pitches but gave up seven two out runs is tough. We have to put this behind us, split the series and couple of well-deserved days off and be ready to go on Wednesday morning. Montville is starting to see it and swing the ball.”
Rockland’s record stands at 18-7 and currently two games up on the Quebec Capitales in the Can-Am League standings. After two days off, the Boulders return to the diamond on Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. against Sussex County.
“We’re resilient a lot of fight in these guys and keep our heads up offensively, keep doing what we have been doing and putting pressure on the defense to make mistakes,” Keefe said.